February 29, 2012

On the blogs and in my brain...

Domino Project/Seth Godin: Who Decides What Gets Sold in the Bookstore? - the challenge of electronic media consolidation. Also from Godin: Perfect and Impossible.

Jennifer Simonson: Lines from The Princess Bride that double as comments on freshman composition papers.

Bridget Nelson: My Inner Helicopter Parent.

Paste Magazine: 90 Best Albums of the 1990s. As always is the problem with these types of lists I could debate some of the rankings - The Sundays and Sugar should be ranked higher, and the various Wilco albums a little lower, plus I don't know enough about most of the the hip-hop albums to fairly critique them, but it is an interesting list to look over if you're from my generation where this music mattered. Also from Paste: 12 Michigan Acts You Should Listen to Now.

40 Ideas for Keeping Lent Holy.

Tim King: Don't Blame College for Young People Leaving the Church.

Dan Dick: Losers Focus on... Losing.

Fred Clark: Banks Behaving Badly.

Awesome geek-dad song from the band, The Board of Education, Why is Dad so Mad?

New music from Bruce out next week...

February 23, 2012

The metrics that really matter...

...are the ones that don't get recorded.

 If you are familiar with the inner-workings of the United Methodist Church you might have have heard something about Vital Congregations. There has been a lot of debate and rumblings about the value of this effort - basically each week, congregations are asked to submit a report listing a few key numbers - worship attendance, professions of faith, number of people participating in small groups and missions, total offering, and total given to mission and ministry support.

 What struck me yesterday morning is that the really important numbers are the ones that don't get (and often can't be) recorded. The number of people in worship matters, but what would be a more interesting number to know is the number of people not in worship. It's easy to celebrate the fact that 92 people were in worship last Sunday; it's a little more sobering to remember that there were 3,395 other people living in a 3-mile radius of the church who were not in worship; or that there was room in the sanctuary for at least 48 more people to be in worship with us. In a similar fashion, what would it mean to measure the number of members not involved in a small group and not engaged in mission last week, which begs the follow-up question, why weren't they actively engaged in some form of ministry?

 Is it possible that giving too much attention to the easy numbers of "who's in" might just reinforce our problem of not remembering "who's still out" there, and isn't that where our attention really needs to be - focused on the one lost sheep and not the 99 who are already accounted for?

 Is the world still our parish, or has the parish become our world?

February 22, 2012

On the blogs and in my brain...

Jay Voorhees: Casting a Vision for the People Called Methodist:
"...simply repeating a mantra of “vital congregations” over and over again is not casting a vision, for it fails to provide a connection to how congregational vitality is connected to discipleship – our primary calling and mission."
Fred Clark as a nice overview of much of the recent discussion on the church blogs about "masculine Christianity" and women in ministry.

Check out the Missional Methodist Manifesto.

3 Ways Smart Leaders Prepare for the Unknown.

Reinhold Niebuhr:

Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime;
therefore, we must be saved by hope.

Nothing true or beautiful makes complete sense
in any context of history;
therefore, we must be saved by faith.

Nothing we do, no matter how virtuous,
can be accomplished alone;
therefore, we are saved by love. (via inward/outward)

Shane Claiborne: Occupy Nonviolence:
"It is always tempting to demonize people and humanize corporations. It’s easy to forget that we are up against something bigger than flesh and blood people. And it’s particularly easy to forget that people are not the enemy when people are shooting pepper spray in your face."
Jamie the Very Worst Missionary: The Tourist Gospel.

Geoff Surratt: 5 Scary Trends the Shipwreck the Church.

Usually McSweeney's gives me a great dose of humor, but this article on Jesus for President is a powerful, straightforward expression of faith that I can resonate with:
"... the reality is, if you want to live like Jesus is your president it means committing to a long hard life of self-denial. A life of little privacy and no independence, of homelessness and restlessness, no promises of the pursuit of happiness, but great big draughts of joy."
Roger Olson: Rick Santorum, Barak Obama and theology.

Sarah Cunningham: The Theology of Falling.

Ragamuffin Soul: Introverts - The Churches Unspoken Second Class Citizens.

Need to try this with the kids:

Back to the college radio days with Jesus & Mary Chain...

Church 2092

Normally, I'd add something like this into a round-up, but this needs to stand on it's own.

February 13, 2012

On the blogs and in my brain...

Another round-up... I just got tired of using the same old title (especially as they have become less "weekly" over the past couple months...

My pal (and Ben's good friend), Casey has a big heart. (via friends Jeff and Bridget). On the other end, another good friend, Diane, tells of a profound lack of compassion she experienced while shopping recently.

Donald Miller: Why Scripture Includes So Much Poetry. Love the line about how "becoming a Christian looks more like falling in love than baking cookies."

Anne Jackson (via Donald Miller's blog): From a Rainy Day to a Starry Night.

Dan Dick: Simplicity Itself - from a Call to Action to a Call to Integrity. And the follow-up posts: Simple Isn't Easy and Diss-cipleship.

101 Ways to "Level Up" Your Life. Semi-related: Burn-out Is Real.

Jay Voorhees developed a great series of posts over the past couple weeks on A Letter to an Incoming D.S. - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6. Don't know how many of the District Superintendents in my conference have stumbled upon this blog (my guess is not many), but it's definitely worth the read for everyone in the Methodist connection.

This made the rounds on Facebook, but it's worth sharing again for anyone who missed it: Nadia Bolz-Weber - I Love Jesus, But I Swear a Little.

Speaking of swearing a little - another funny post via McSweeney's - I'll Be Knocking Out Poetry This Whole... Flight.

David Carr: My Dinner with Clay Shirky and What I Learned About Friendship; great reminder that now matter how important social media is, those face-to-face encounters are essential. (The importance of bread in that story should especially speak to the church).

Jim Palmer: 18 Mistakes I Made As A Senior Pastor.

Paul Stewart: The Celebrity Pastor.

From Wired Magazine: High School Debate at 350 Words a Minute. I had just been thinking about my times in high school debate, sneaking into college libraries (getting kicked out of the Drake Law Library on account of my friend "looking too young to be here"), and all the cutting, pasting and photocopying for our files, and wondered how all that might change with smart-phones, laptops and tablets; this article totally answered my questions. (If you follow the link and view the video just know that I could never speak quite as fast as those in the video, but I did speak in that same fashion).

Any chance I could get a job here? Or anyone up for redecorating my office to match this? I need LEGOS... and a slide.

Michael Hyatt: The Secret to Happiness as You Get Older - I remember in my Pastoral Care class we were studying Erikson who (basically) said at the last stage of life you can "get better or get bitter".

Music from David Byrne (covering Whitney Houston):

February 6, 2012

Building Idolatry

 Last I came across an article posted in the Mental Floss twitter feed on 11 New Uses for Old Churches which shows some of the ways closed church buildings have been reconverted into restaurants, indoor playgrounds, homes, offices, etc. I retweeted it and also posted it to Facebook simply because I thought it was interesting, but it did get me thinking again about a subject that I have wrestled with in years past.

 A couple years ago a church I was serving, and another United Methodist congregation (literally located three blocks away), began talking about the possibility of merging the two chuches. Historically, one church had been a part of the Evangelical United Brethren branch of our tradition and the other was part of the Methodist Episcopal, and from 1968 until about 10 years ago both congregations remained theologically different from each other and numerically strong enough to justify remaining independent entities. With aging congregations at both churches and some leadership shifts at the other church, an exploration of merger team was formed between the two congregations to explore the possibilities, and (unfortunately) it fell on me to lead that process.

 In the midst of our meetings it seemed quite clear that the two congregations now shared the same values and theological differences we not nearly as pressing as they had been a generation prior... but the committee got stuck over what building they would use as a merged congregation. Obviously the ideal situation would be to sell both buildings and construct a new one, but given the demographics of the larger community that wasn't feasible (we would have been lucky to sell one building in a reasonable amount of time given the economic climate). As much as everyone around the table knew the idea that "the church is not a building" they simply couldn't move past the idea of sacrificing "their" place of worship. Looking back, as a leader I should have done more to push the issue and explore ways to think creatively about the theology of place and the opportunities before us, but I think I was feeling stuck like everyone else.

 In that moment I because very sensitive to this issue of "building idolatry" - how our values, our perceptions of God, and how ministry itself is shaped by the collection of bricks and mortar we call "church." All too often, congregations are so focused on maintaining the physical structure, so much energy and money is put into things like curtains, carpet, boilers and leaky roofs that the things that should be our real focus get lost.

 I don't know anything about the backstory of those 11 churches that have been converted, but I really wonder if that congregation in England had done a better job of intentionally reaching out to the kids who liked to skate, and had not been so worried of them skating in the parking lot; if they still might have been a worshipping congregation today, instead of a skatepark. And the congregation in Pennsylvania - is it possible they were too concerned with kids running around the church, making too much noise in the sanctuary, and spilling punch on the carpets that that building was no longer a friendly place for children, or their families? Now that it has been turned into a playground I bet there is more life, laughter, and love happening within those walls than there has been for the last 40 years.

 It's heartbreaking when a congregation has to close it doors. I am someone who understands the sentimental attraction of architecture and space - I still frequently dream of returning to my grandparent's home and to my elementary school, though I no longer can - ironically because both those places have been converted into churches. I know it is hard to see (or even consider) that the place where you grew up, were married, had your kids baptized, and your parents buried, could ever be changed, sold, or even demolished. But at the end of the day, what we all need to realize is that a church building is only a building - sacred things happen there - but that's only because of the people and God's Spirit at work. The physical structure is merely a tool meant to make ministry happen. And when ministry doesn't happen; when all our energy goes into preserving the windows and walls, then before too long, we're going to lose it.

 Maybe instead of worrying about the day our church buildings might be converted into charter schools, restaurants, office space, homes, skateparks, libraries, or play grounds, we should start thinking about ways that the buildings might be better utilized to meet some of those needs right now. The reality is a building that gets used for only a few hours a week is incredibly poor stewardship. How can we make better use of space, on our own, or by inviting outside groups in? How might we make the church building into a community resource, a community gathering point that embraces the sacred and the secular and makes room for all? And yes, if we were really willing to embrace this kind of change it would mean more work for the custodians, more headaches for the Trustees, it would mean all sorts of negotiations, communication, and there would even be misunderstandings and fights along the way, but I have to believe that in the end it would leave us with something more faithful and sustainable than the situation many congregations find themselves in now.